October is upon us and I’m slowly closing down after a hectic & wonderful summer of festivals. I seem to have been travelling all over the country. It has been exhausting and exciting. I am so grateful to the many people who haven’t forgotten me and who continue to turn up and enjoy (and approve) of what I’m still doing – after all these years! Thank you.
I suppose the summer began with the Music on the Marr Festival in the small village of Castle Carrick in Cumbria (not a million miles from Carlisle.) The weather was fine, the sun shone (didn’t it?) I feel a bit like that song “I Remember it Well.” Sung by Hermione Gingold and Maurice Chevalier (from GiGi … I think?) What I do remember well was that Festival. A small festival yet with exciting & big ideas. Here were folk musicians with international reputations, John Kirkpatrick, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, Chris Wood, Vin Garbut, Skerryvore, The Young Uns and more. I’m transported back to the early days of folk festivals – everything was human size you felt you belonged to a special community and vowed to tell your friends and return the next year.
August, and it was off to Sidmouth. A long journey but so worthwhile. I think I’ve been saying for more years than I care to remember – “Never again! I can’t do this journey…..” but I acknowledge after the drive, I love it and would feel quite sad if the invitation was to stop! Then to Saltburn up in the North East (I must be mad!) not because of the festival but for undertaking the drive from Sidmouth to Sheffield (1 day) to Saltburn! I must be mad!? Yet again, when I arrive I am reminded of previous visits and meeting old friends. I soon forget about the drive and am excited about up-coming concerts. These go well. I enjoy other performers and then relax into my spot. Returning home, Towersey Festival looms large on the horizon. Joe Heap (the Programme Director) asked me to MC the whole Monday afternoon at the Big Club venue - 12 noon to 5pm! This means I’m ‘responsible’ for the whole afternoon. Sing a song, he says, then introduce Jim Woodland followed by The (wonderful) Wilsons, then the quintessential English folk musician and singer, John Kirkpartrick. [I was pleased to read, recently, a similar view of John by Shirley Collins.] It is then, my annual 90 minutes or so ‘Monday afternoon’ concert. What a great afternoon that was! It can’t be beaten as far as I’m concerned. I have time to really communicate with and join with the seemingly vast audience through song and shared laughter. I look forward to this afternoon all year – bring on the next year, I say!
This year’s summer festivals are interrupted by a trip to the Burston School Rally in Norfolk (nr Diss). This wonderful and unique event I had heard about. This year, finally, I go and it really is and was, an extraordinary event. For those of you who haven’t heard of this School, it all began back in 1914. The school in Burston had two teachers, who apart from teaching, were very supportive of many trade union struggles to improve the lot of their working members. They were seen as a couple who didn’t accept the place of working people, especially the hierachical nature of society, where everyone had their respective place in the ‘order of things’. The local squire or factory owner, the Church and ‘the people’, this strict hierarchy still persisted. This was being challenged by trade unions and now, two uppity teachers at the village school! This was unacceptable. “Who knows what they’re teaching our children ?” The teachers were eventually sacked on trumped up charges. At this point the children went on strike, supported overwhelmingly by their parents. The two teachers Annie and Tom Higdon then set up their own school in a tent on the village green. This school was supported by parents and the agricultural workers of the area. The strike ended in 1939. shortly after Tom Higdon’s death. This is the longest strike in British history and is celebrated now with the support of the Unite Union. It was that union’s School Rally organisers who invited me. I was delighted and after another long and horrible journey, had a great afternoon. Just to be there in the footsteps of so many people whom I respected, Tony Benn, Dick Gaughan and Leon Rosselson, was enough to put the journey behind me and experience the crowded Burston Green Rally that had so much ‘history’ to offer. [Those aren’t the right words but, hopefully, you know what I mean?]
Then to Doncaster (Aah! Just down the road, bliss!) to celebrate 40 years of ‘The Rock’, a club that began life at the Rockingham Arms in Wentworth nr Rotherham, moved to Maltby and now resides in Doncaster. I was the guest in 1973, at the very first evening; I sang at the club during it’s period at Maltby, and now was to be the guest at its 40th birthday! A lovely evening and I think we all had great time – audience and performers!
The next event in this crowded summer (Are you still with me or have you given up and gone to do something else?) was a quite an idyllic, small festival in Nottinghamshire. The ‘Fallen Leaves Festival’ held in an old church (well it’s a ruin now – just a shell of a building, not much left except the peacefulness of Annesley Old Church. It was such a delight to be there – people sitting on the grass, on rugs, on low camping chairs and everyone being really friendly. Enjoying the music and the Morris Dancers. There’s no stage as such, just a “This is where you sing” spot. People simply gathered around. There weren’t that many people but it was a comfortable crowd and what they lacked in number they made up with enthusiasm and quiet attention to the many singers & musicianswho were there to entertain. I was the final guest and I think I’m right to claim we all had a great afternoon of music and song with laughter sprinkled in at appropriate places. It would be nice to think it might happen again but the departure of Dr. David Amos from the employ of the Parish Council, the man whose energy alone made the day happen, I fear it unlikely.
We’re now back to clubs and concerts, Perhaps my favourite venue, Kings Place, in York Way, very near Kings Cross Station where Robb Johnson and I performed Robb’s song suite of his grandfathers and their experience of the 1st WW – ‘Gentle Men.’
This is an abridged version of the full song suite, concentrating on their war experiences. It is wonderful to sing, it is very moving and is always really well received.
That’s it. I have my wonderful birthday celebratory concert organised by my daughter and the Bright Phoebus club here in Sheffield at the Greystones Pub, Greystones Road, Sheffield S11 7BS. This concert will be on Wednesday 22nd October – tickets from www.wegottickets.com/event/284157. If you can’t get tickets here you can always try the Greystones pub itself, 0114 266 5599. They have bunch of tickets to sell and you avoid the sales commission you have to pay to ‘wegottickets’! See you there?
Politics. No, don’t switch off. It is important. Hundreds of people died and generations fought for your right to vote. It is out of respect for those people that our duty to vote comes. The party conferences are over, the questions before us are not whether David Cameron or Ed Miliband “looks or doesn’t look like a Prime Minister”. It’s NOT a beauty parade. It is what policies will we support? I am reminded of the Labour Party’s manifesto for the 1945 election:
“The great inter-war slump……….were the sure and certain concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men….” It goes on to comment on this and you could be forgiven for seeing that this could easily be a conclusion on the great financial crash of 2008. The irresponsible bankers and “…those who follow their own bureaucratically run private monopolies which can be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within the democratic State!….” This is just a taste of Clement Atlee’s Labour Party Manifesto. Atlee didn’t “look like a Prime minister”. He was short, had a moustache like Charlie Chaplin and indeed looked a bit like Chaplin. But he led a democratic revolution in establishing the National Health Service, nationalised the railways and the energy industries of coal and electricity - gave us an Education Bill that opened up schools, colleges and universities to me and generations of ‘ordinary’ folk! This was achieved at a time when the country was ‘flat broke’ after the war. It wasn’t ‘austerity’ that brought this country through its post war bankruptcy! And as I’ve said before, it wasn’t austerity which gave me my education, my health care and a welfare state which supported people through circumstances created by forces beyond their control. No fault of their own. Poverty wasn’t blamed on the poor! Homelessness wasn’t blamed on the homeless. Those in receipt of welfare benefits were not demonised. The labels of ‘scroungers’ or ‘welfare malingerers’ weren’t attached to individuals or families ‘on benefits’!
The austerity programme has not dealt with the consequences of the world wide financial crisis and it wasn’t the Labour Party who were responsible for that crisis! All austerity has done is further impoverish the already poor, confuse the ordinary pensioner and demonise anyone seeking welfare support. Not to mention those seeking to enter the country as immigrants and refugees. Refugees, often fleeing from the disasters created by this country’s foreign policy! I’m sure I don’t have to “unpack” this assertion!
I have been so privileged in my life. Let me close with my friend, the late Utah Phillips. What he says is something I respect and seek to emulate. I know I fail in this but it remains my ideal:
“We come in to the world with an extraordinary armoury of weapons. The weapons of privilege: economic privilege; racial privilege; sexual privilege; gender privilege. These are the weapons and privileges of Western, white, males. To be anti war and anti violence, we must give up these weapons. We must go into the world with the humbling knowledge that these are part of our weaponry and we must be especially careful never to use them.”
I hope to see you somewhere either at one my occasional ventures out into the ‘winter of discontent’ or next year. Have a look at my web page to see what I’m doing. So here’s to the future may our children and grandchildren, make a better job of it than my generation has of the present!
Roy Bailey x